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Orlando: the city beautiful has every reason 'to be.' (Orlando, Florida)

Orlando. The very name conjures up thoughts of family fun, business prosperity and the type of year-round weather most people dream of.

Imagine that this very city was once characterized as the "city with no reason to be."

That characterization has changed dramatically since the city was officially chartered in 1885. In fact, the world-renowned city of Orlando was originally called Jernigan, named after the early settlers, brothers Aaron and Isaac Jernigan. The delegates at the 1993 National League of Cities Annual Conference in Orlando from December 2-5 will see, first-hand, all the many reasons this city has prospered.

But back to 1885 and the dim prognosis for Orlando. It was simply a sleepy agricultural town, with its beginnings as a military outpost during the Seminole War. Its obvious lack of waterways and railroads earned the region the dubious distinction of having no good reason to exist. What a difference a century makes. The determination of those early settlers set the foundation for the path of history in Orlando, which is marked by visionary leaders who saw many, many good reasons for Orlando to succeed.

Today, with a regional population of 1.1 million and the distinction as the world's most popular tourist destination, the Orlando area is thriving on all fronts. Agriculture still plays an important role in the economy, with dairy farming, foliage and other agricultural production, processing and marketing operations supplying goods throughout the U.S. and overseas.

High-tech and manufacturing are also backbones of the local economy. The corporate roster in Orlando includes such giants as Martin Marietta, Harcourt General, AT&T, Harris Corp., and Westinghouse. Just as significant is the region becoming a hotbed of small businesses and entrepreneurial endeavors, earning Orlando a reputation as a leading location for the very segment of the economy credited with keeping the U.S. economy afloat.

Many of these companies support NASA and the space industry at nearby Kennedy Space Center. It was 1961 when President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would place a man on the moon within 10 years, launching yet another industry in the Orlando area.

And then there is tourism. In 1965, the future of Orlando was forever changed with the startling announcement by Walt Disney that he would build his Magic Kingdom in this little known region. With the opening of his first theme park in 1971, Orlando entered a dynamic new era. Walt Disney World now encompasses many different water parks, restaurants, resorts, and attractions, including the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Disney/MGM Studios. SeaWorld, Universal Studios and many other area attractions have helped tourism replace agriculture as Central Florida's chief industry.

Each and every year, Orlando welcomes 13.2 million tourists, staying an average of 5.3 nights in the area and contributing $5.1 billion to the economy. The popularity of the area for visitors contributes to its success in attracting convention business; meeting planners will confirm that the best cities for conventions are the same ones that have a reputation as an exciting destination with lots to do, and one where business is booming.

Orlando certainly qualifies.

Now, add the availability of professional sports, and there is little left for a visitor to desire that can't be found in the city with no reason to be. The Orlando Magic, setting records with sold-out games and home to the newest mega-celebrity in the sporting world, Shaquille O'Neal, broke all rules of logic and won, for the second year in a row, the first-round NBA draft pick. In a trade deal, the Magic have secured Anfernee Hardaway to join Shaq and team for what the locals are calling the "dream team season." All this in just the four years since the Magic have been bouncing the ball as an expansion team in the NBA. Plus, in the summer of 1994, Orlando plays host to World Cup soccer, with five games to be played there and thousands of international visitors expected in attendance.

"When I travel worldwide, people always want to know about the special 'magic' in Orlando, and they don't just mean the basketball team! I tell them we are a well-balanced community, with tourism, business, agriculture and, big league sports and sporting events. That balance has come from years of careful planning, public/private partnerships and preserving the sense of community that is vital to the prosperity of a growing city. We recognize that this is a special place, and are committed to a future as bright as our past has been," said Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood, herself a native of the city and Immediate Past President of the NLC.

A city with no reason to be? Hardly. Orlando is THE place to be, especially in December when the NLC will visit to experience its magic up close and personal.
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Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jul 19, 1993
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